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A driver ploughed into a crowded public square in China, killing nine and injuring 46, local officials said Wednesday.

The incident occurred at 7:35 pm (1135 GMT), according to a statement on the official social media account of Hengdong city in central Hunan province.

Police have taken the driver -- a man in his mid-40s -- into custody, according to a report published by the state-funded news website The Paper, which added that a person matching the description of the alleged assailant had previously been jailed on drug charges.

Authorities said they were investigating the incident, but did not elaborate further.

Pictures reportedly from the scene and shared on social media showed a red SUV with a crushed bumper.

Videos of the incident circulated briefly on social media, but were quickly removed.

Violent crime has risen in China in recent decades as the country's economic boom has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Police have also previously blamed such attacks on militant separatists.

In 2013, two tourists were killed when a car rammed into bystanders on Beijing's iconic Tiananmen Square before bursting into flames.

Three attackers also died in the incident, which Beijing blamed on separatists from the restive western region of Xinjiang.